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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Trolling in Bizarro Charlestown

Or, Let me Google that for you

By Linda Felaco

Almost since the launch of Progressive Charlestown, we have received frequent “troll” comments, usually anonymous but sometimes signed with a made-up “handle.” One of the more notable trolls has been a particularly argumentative reader who signs his posts “Jerry.”

Trolls distract and detract from the author’s message by misstating or misinterpreting facts, demanding explanations or definitions of concepts or terms that are clearly stated in the text, being sarcastic and/or hostile, name-calling, and basically trying to get into an electronic fistfight. Nearly every website that posts on topics that can in any way be construed as political or controversial gets this kind of traffic, and each develops its own policy for dealing with it.

Unfortunately, once their true identity is discovered, the troll usually just changes handles.

Regular readers might recall that back in January, I wrote about how Michael Chambers drove to Town Hall in the fog and rain to tell our elected leaders that he was renouncing reading Progressive Charlestown. Coincidentally, we subsequently stopped getting comments from “Jerry.” And good riddance to bad rubbish, we figured.

Except he just couldn’t stay away.

In the first installment in the Bizarro Charlestown series, I mentioned Michael Chambers’s “Jerry”[1] persona. You see, back in March, Chambers “outed” himself as the commenter who’d been signing his posts “Jerry” by continuing an argument he’d been having here with me as “Jerry” over on the Regressive Charlestown blog[2] under his real name.

Indeed, it seems entirely possible that “Sybil” Chambers may be every single troll Progressive Charlestown has ever had. Frankly, I think Chambers may be in need of an intervention. The upcoming new edition of the “bible” of the psychiatric profession, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, will list “Internet-use disorder” as a condition that is “recommended for further study.” Basically, what they’re saying is that some people who spend a lot of time on the internet exhibit symptoms similar to people with other types of addictions, and that mental health professionals should keep a close eye on their patients who exhibit potential signs of this potential disorder. Get help, Mike! Before it’s too late. Or before you come up with yet another troll handle.

Strangely enough, though, here on Progressive Charlestown, Jerry, aka “The Voice of the CCA,” had repeatedly complained about how Planning Commissar (and CCA webmistress) Ruth Platner and the rest of the Planning Commission interfered with people’s property rights. In fact, he’s been on record in any number of comments as agreeing with us about the lack of business development in town and that the CCA is to blame. Two-faced or turncoat? You be the judge.

Chambers’s comments on Regressive Charlestown increased in frequency and after awhile, the CCA actually saw fit to rename its “Mailbox” section the “CCA Blog & Mailbox” in order to begin featuring Chambers’s guest posts regularly, making him the de facto Voice of the CCA.[3]

So it was no surprise that the “Jerry” comments here on Progressive Charlestown once again trailed off after he blew his cover. But we still kept getting a lot of anonymous comments that sounded awfully Jerry-ish, as well as a series of head-scratching comments using the phrase “moral turpitude” in ways that only made sense if the definition were reversed, Bizarro Charlestown–style. Many of these comments we declined to publish, though mere incoherence was not the only reason; many of them violated our commenting policy in various ways. More on this in a bit.

So the erroneous use of the phrase “moral turpitude” in Chambers’s October 2 posting “BECAUSE PRINCIPLES MATTER” made him a prime suspect as the author of the “moral turpitude” comments. It also pegged Chambers as the likely author of an anonymous letter containing the same usage error that was tucked into Will Collette’s mailbox along with his U.S. mail in August—in addition to being creepy, a federal offense, I might add, and a criminal one to boot, not a “civil” one. (Read the letter here.)

I found it rather surprising that the “legal, ethical, and moral” crusaders of the CCA hadn’t set Chambers straight on the true meaning of the word turpitude, especially given that some of them are educators. So I took a screenshot of the post, and sure enough, a few hours later, the correction I wrote about in Moral turpitude in Bizarro Charlestown had been made, perhaps in response to an astute reader who submitted a comment the CCA declined to publish (see screenshot here).

Then I reviewed all the “moral turpitude” comments here on Progressive Charlestown. That was when I realized the real reason they’d been sent to the spam can: Because they were personally insulting, degrading, and slanderous toward a certain member of the Town Council whom Chambers has recently taken up a vociferous defense of on Regressive Charlestown. The comments had repeatedly decried her lack of moral turpitude (in Chambers’s Bizarro sense of the word, if you follow), all the while using various and sundry deliberate misspellings of her last name.

And sure enough, within hours of “Moral turpitude in Bizarro Charlestown” being published, Chambers started commenting, anonymously of course, with repeated demands for the definition of turpitude and the difference between turpitude and fortitude, the word that had been substituted for the erroneous use of turpitude in his post. Apparently, he still doesn’t get it. Given that (a) I’d already given the definition in the story, (b) I was too busy with work to play “Let me Google that for you” with him, and (c) I don’t play “Let me Google that for you” even when I have the time, I didn’t bother to respond.

Now, I don’t know if the CCA “assigned” Chambers to troll Progressive Charlestown from the get-go, or whether he came up with the idea on his own. And in the end, I don’t even care.

What cannot be denied is that the CCA has published and thereby endorsed Chambers’s writings, on their own site and under their own banner, all the while shedding crocodile tears over the alleged lack of “civility” on Progressive Charlestown. Which exists, as we’ve stated many times, for the precise reason that we simply could not publish the stories we post here on the CDTC website. Everything that appears on the CDTC site has to be committee-approved; no one can post unilaterally on their own recognizance.

Granted, the CCA has never been a big believer in behaving the way it prescribes for others, as we’ve pointed out over and over and over again. But in the end, civil is as civil does.

[1] Jerry Seinfeld? Tom and Jerry? Jerry curl? Jerrycan? You be the judge.
[2] I.e., the Charlestown Citizens Alliance “Blog & Mailbox.”
[3] Yeah, I know, supposedly “Guest posts … do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the CCA Steering Committee.” But is it plausible to believe that Ruth would post content that she disagrees with? Or let me put it another way: How often have Will, Tom, or I posted anything that was contrary to our own opinions?